HERRIMAN — If Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat were a constellation, I’d know every star; if it were a cornfield, I’d know every row and husk. I’ve seen it performed half a dozen times, watched and re-watched the movie, sung to the CD about a thousand times… so it was impossible for me to go into this show with a clean slate and no expectations. But reviewers shouldn’t have pre-set expectations. They should have open minds. So to make restitution, I will lay out my pre-show biases upfront and then give my post-show impressions to see where these expectations brought me. I hope this evens the score.
Expectation 1—Production Elements
In an amateur community theater production, I expected a minimal set reflecting a community budget, track music, low-budget props and costumes with no real pizzazz, iffy sound system, simple lighting, and amateur staging. Each and every expectation was blown out of the water.
First off, what a beautifully designed set (a big shout-out to set designer Eric Balazs and scenic artist Sean Catherall and their staff). The stage had an impressionistic, hand-painted, “rainbow sky” backdrop topped with three interspersed pyramid tents, each lit up with a color—one red, one yellow, one green. Set pieces used throughout the show were functional and artistically crafted, like the Egyptian-inscribed pillars and the Pharaoh-head centerpiece added for the second act.
When I walked into the open-air, though covered Herriman pavilion, one of my first happy surprises was to see a live orchestra ready to play. Of course, I still didn’t know how good that orchestra would be. Lucky for me and everyone else in attendance, conductor Michelle Willis and her orchestra would have made Mary Poppins proud—“Practically perfect in every way.”
The rest of the production elements didn’t disappoint: exhaustive and impressive costuming (each ensemble member had several outfits—most rather intricate, like the gilded apparel of the Pharaoh’s palace servants and the oh-so-fun sixties getups); creative and fun props; balanced sound and great lighting that didn’t distract, just added; and clever staging, utilizing the wide stage well. I honestly wish I had space to thank each and every member of the production staff for a job well done. Hopefully this generalized compliment will suffice.
Expectation 2—Performance Caliber
As far as the level of performances, my expectations were moderated by previous hit-and-miss community productions I have seen (and been a part of). I expected to see a few embarrassing-to-watch moments, surface acting rather than true emotional commitment, simple dancing with a lot of jazz squares and pivot turns, and some hokey supporting cast members. But I hoped and expected to see some talented leads.
What I saw once again defied my biases. Foremost—the ensemble was incredible, to a person. They set this show apart and made it so fun to watch, with such high energy, commitment to the moment in each scene, excellent vocal sound (including great diction; vocal director Julie Reed did a phenomenal job all around), and moments of true humor.
I am happy to report there were no embarrassing-to-watch moments in Herriman Arts Council’s production, at least for the acting. I did find the Egyptian belly dancers and the well-played seductress Potiphar’s Wife (Carli Christoffersen) a little unsettling to watch and perhaps less-than family friendly (especially considering the costuming included nothing more than bikini tops and pants for both). But still, they were bearable and very brief.
Joseph lends itself to some tongue-in-cheek, less than emotionally serious moments, but the emotion was there where it counted—like when the brothers all plead for Benjamin’s case and fall to their knees or when Joseph is cast into prison and sings, “Close Every Door.”
Also deserving of praise is choregrapher Julie “JuJu” Balazs. Instead of simply jazz squares and pivot turns, she gave the audience an array of dance styles coordinated to each song, with talented dancers doing small ensemble work and the entire cast joining in without a single awkward dancer that I could spot.
The leads did not disappoint—overall strong and talented, though with some weaknesses. Bethany Hall rose to the challenge of the Narrator, which is a notoriously difficult, trying part—so much so that in many Joseph productions the role is shared between two to three women. Hall pulled the part off beautifully, with a crisp, clean vocal tone and a great talk-sing voice for all that narrating. She really shined during the slower, ballad-like moments, though one of her best performances was during the more upbeat scatting in “A Pharaoh’s Story.” She had some minor “pitchy” moments, but overall, she impressed with her emotional integrity, confidence, and voice in this Taj Mahal of women’s musical theater roles.
Ryan Hoskin’s Joseph had a nice innocent, “pure” characterization with vocal warmth to match, and he excelled at louder, emotional songs, like “Close Every Door.” Though his pitch seemed to suffer with some of the slower songs, he acted the part of Joseph so well that the minor vocal flaws were easily overlooked. By far my favorite scenes of Hoskin’s were at the end of the show, in “Grovel, Grovel” and the reunion with Jacob. His emotion was very believable and compelling.
A few additional stand-out moments: Simeon’s (Brent Rindlisbacher) “Those Canaan Days”—hilarious and vocally awesome; Judah’s (Dallin Remund) “Benjamin Calypso”—particularly his clear, powerful high notes; all of Joseph’s brothers in general—so much fun to watch; and the choir girl with glasses who hula hooped around her neck—impressive!
My personal favorite character of the night was Pharaoh, played by Dusty Stout. He was absolutely hilarious and truly flawless in his delivery. Stout’s attention to all of the details of Pharaoh, his comedic timing, his vocal chops, and his other artistic choices combined to be laugh-out-loud fun every time he was on stage. And Stout has charisma and stage presence oozing out of his ears—when he’s on stage, it’s hard to focus elsewhere.
Expectation 3—Entertainment Quality
Because I am so familiar with the show, I anticipated this musical to be somewhat tedious, filled with clichés, and down-right boring at times. It was instead one of the most entertaining musicals I have seen, mainly thanks to the performance’s attention to detail.
Director Stephen Kerr—who I was surprised to read has only directed one other show, ever!—did a brilliant job (as I am sure did his Assistant Director Linda Pendleton Smith). There were countless fun details added in every scene—from Joseph playing “rock, paper, scissors” with his guards as the Narrator sang about how he was “in with the guards” to Joseph playing football with Dad while the jealous brothers tried fruitlessly to join in the game. You could simply tell that the director loved this show and each and every cast member was having a blast performing it and really playing.
In short, Herriman’s production of Joseph shot my expectations to smithereens. If you have a chance—see it. And if you don’t—keep some tabs on Herriman’s Arts Council’s future productions. They’ve set the bar high here and I expect they will produce more great shows in the future.